Monday, January 25, 2010

Innovation in Suffering

The suffering in Haiti is truly heart wrenching. My family and I are working through it in prayer, action and mobilization, but the facts don't go away. To learn from the event seems predatory and to ignore it seems heartless. But I have been asking myself what a Generous Mind would do and I come back to this--we are called to obey God fully and without reservation where we are with what we have.

So with that in mind I share some innovation thoughts. As I have been thinking and praying about tragedy and suffering I have seen two things in relation to innovation. Both of them have to do with innovation in mobile technology.

The first is that in a time of tragedy and disaster people innovate and create solutions that change the game and bring hope and options to those who are suffering. One amazing example is the way cell phones are being used. It is hard to believe that cell phones even work after such a tragedy, but they have been used in countless ways. One system we should all know about is what Thomson Reuters Foundation used for the first time. The Emergency Information Service (EIS) is providing messages to the countless people who have cell phones (although not much else). These messages give direction for healthcare and provide other informational services at no charge. This is the first time this system has been used and is a major step forward in using mobile technology to respond to a tragedy. We can only imagine the hope it is providing and the lives it will save.

Another amazing innovation in technology for those fortunate enough to have an iPhone when the earthquake hit are the applications that show users how to treat wounds. Compassion's Dan Woolley used an app like this while waiting to be rescued. I am sure we will see many more people step up with new ideas and creative solutions as Haiti is rebuilt.

The second observation about innovation is that tragedies create momentum to take an idea that has already been in existence and propel it into the mainstream. A very good example of this is mobile donations. Before the earthquake giving via your mobile phone was starting to gain ground, but this tragedy has propelled this innovation to a new level. According to mgive the Red Cross has raised 24 million dollars from nearly 2.5 million people via mobile phones. Each person sent a text that gave $10 to the Red Cross's response efforts for Haiti. The Red Cross says that mobile donations are now 25% of total donations for their work in Haiti! These are amazing numbers that happen as a result of a tragedy that mobilizes people to action.

So what do we learn from these two observations? Here is my take-away -- a innovation moves from new idea to a useful and powerful tool when there is a clear and present need. Don't hear me saying that we should pray for tragedies so that our ideas will take off...that is not the point.

But what we can learn is that if we are faithful with what God has put on our heart, even when no one around seems to care or need it, then there may be a moment in time when God chooses to use our life's work to respond to a tragic event. We don't know when our innovation will be needed. But that is not necessarily for us to know. If God has told you to do something, then obedience is in order and He will provide the context for it to glorify Him.

I wonder how long people worked on the technology, platforms and partnerships that would allow the Emergency Information Service or mobile giving to be a reality? Did they know that an earthquake would strike Haiti? Did they understand the significance of their work on those hard days when nothing went right and when the obstacles seemed unreal?

No, but today they can look at their work and say, "God used the work of these hands!" Will you be able to say that someday?

Prayer for Haiti

We are all overwhelmed with the needs in Haiti, but where do we start. We believe firmly that we start with prayer. That is what we are doing in our church and in our family and we would ask you to join us in that. Jon has created a 30 Day Prayer Guide for Haiti with Eric Foley as part of their work with .W (doers of the Word - Take a minute to visit Eric's blog and download the prayer guide. And please be sure to share here how you and your family are responding.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An Audacious Approach

Sorry, I couldn't help it. For those of you who don't know I love alliteration. But that is neither here nor there.

Today I want to talk about creating an environment of innovation. I hope you are starting to notice that I spend a lot more time talking about the context than the examples. Examples of innovation are good and I love to highlight cool new things, but the stumbling block to innovation is not a lack of information or ideas. The main stumbling block is creating the right relationships with God, others and our environment to foster missional innovation.

So in that vein, I was at the Panera yesterday with some of the team from Development Associates International (DAI). We were discussing fundraising and technology when Paul Berry shared a personal goal that I just had to share with all of you. So with his permission, I'm sharing his new years resolution.

Usually I role my eyes at resolutions because we all know where they go an the lack of impact they usually have. However, this one had context and a richness of experience that was refreshing. So what was it?

Paul resolved to do something audacious every month this year. He shared how this first month he is building an iphone app. Next month it is learning Greek words and after that who knows. What it is really is not the point at all. The amazing thing about this resolution is that it puts Paul into a posture of learning, risk and creativity that is not normal.

Usually we are stuck in mediocrity of a life that is saturated with the normal. We eat it, drink it and swim in it. No wonder we aren't creative or innovative. We are surrounded by "can't" "don't" or "won't". Somehow if we are going to free our minds to be vessels for God's glory, we have to escape the traps that the world tries to bind us in.

Paul's resolution does that. It puts him in a position where every month he will experience something new, understand something in a different way and meet new people who are struggling through the same thing.

So here is what I want us to do. We have been having some great discussions about innovation and mission over the past days. In the spirit of Paul's resolution, I am asking 12 of you to share one audacious thing that you want to accomplish in the first three months of this year.

12 people and 12 things.

And if you are one of those people, you are agreeing to report back by the end of March with the results of your audacious activity and we will do a blog post with the results of each of your efforts. So who is up for the challenge?

Monday, January 04, 2010

A Friend's Review of Urbana 09

A friend of ours - Paul Borthwick - who wrote the intro to our latest book, Through the River, just shared key observations about this Urbana. Here is his facebook post reprinted with his permission:

URBANA 2009 – Borthwick’s Top 10
Upon returning from Inter-Varsity’s Urbana 2009 Student Mission Convention (more at in St. Louis (December 27th through January 1st), I reflected both personally (to Christie) and publicly (to our Facebook “Team Borthwick”) that I thought Urbana 2009 was “one of the best ever” Urbanas that I’ve attended (and I’ve been at 10 since 1973). Immediately the question came back, “Why?”

Objectively, it was not the largest Urbana on record: the 16,000+ attendees this year is still remarkable but I think that Urbana 2000, 2003, and 2006 were all larger.

Subjectively, I missed being there with Christie as in past Urbanas. And Urbana 09 was not my most significant public ministry role. Nothing will compare to the awesome privilege of giving the call-to-commitment address at Urbana 2000, and though I taught seminars and participated in the Pastor’s Program in 09, I wasn’t in charge of anything. (My friend Ken Fong [Bible expositor, Urbana 2000] & I wanted to start a group of “Urbana has-beens” but no one cared J)

So why one of the best ever? Here are my combined objective-subjective highlights – with a little prioritization:

HIGHLIGHT #10: Convergence. For me personally, God deeply encouraged me by helping me see how the ministry of developing leaders with Development Associates International (DAI) serves the other networks we touch – like Gordon College, Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and Urbana. At Urbana 09, I met at least half-dozen college-age children of our peers and DAI support team. I saw former and future Gordon students who are preparing for overseas service. I interacted with leaders DAI has served or will soon be serving in Nigeria, Bangladesh, India, and more. And I met international leaders who have been DAI trainers or students (or both).

HIGHLIGHT #9: A true kaleidoscope of cultural diversity (Revelation 7:9). We were led in worship by a multi-cultural team who led us into a different cultural “neighborhood” in each session. Speakers and teachers came from around the world – Kenya, Hong Kong, the Middle East, Costa Rica, Rwanda, India, and many, many more. One estimate reported that attendees came from more than 100+ countries.

HIGHLIGHT #8: In Christ Alone at communion. Bringing in the New Year with a 16,000 person communion service is always a highlight, but this year was exceptional. While singing “In Christ Alone,” students around us spontaneously stood and lifted their communion cups towards heaven as they belted out the crescendo: “No power of hell; no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand till he returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand.” Given the dangerous places God will call these students to, it was a profound moment.
HIGHLIGHT #7: Managing tensions of ministry in the modern world. Greg Jao, a brilliant emcee and primary Urbana host, summarized each session by articulating the tensions of living as salt and light in the world. He noted the complexities related to Kingdom living – the Gospel preached and lived, incarnational ministry in the tough places, and balancing our "this world/next world" motivation. He challenged students to wrestle with the Scriptures as they address these global and local realities. One vivid illustration sticks in my mind: one speaker is a zealous advocate of pacifism, but another ministers to gang members and carries his own gun. No easy answers indeed!

HIGHLIGHT #6: Seriously reflective, passionate students. Any Urbana attendee will tell you that the worship is a highlight at every conference, but this year seemed different. Rather than the emotional response of standing ovations after a challenging message, students seemed quieter and more contemplative – as they pondered the meaning for their own lives. Workshops filled to over-flowing, even on the last day. As York Moore ( stated in one of his reports:

Many Inter Varsity staff who have been to Urbanas for decades have said this is the most spiritually hungry group of Urbana students they’ve ever seen. Seminars have been pouring out onto adjacent halls and floors, long lines to get into Bible studies, and students weeping in the main session as speaker after speaker challenged them to live for Christ!

HIGHLIGHT #5: “Live to be forgotten.” Dr. Patrick Fung, International Director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship, told the story of learning of the hundreds of name-less men and women who sacrificed their lives to bring the Gospel to his native China and many other places. Maybe it’s just because I’m 55 and sometimes feeling like a ‘has-been,’ it was a powerful reminder of living with a “Jesus must increase; I must decrease” value system. [For any who have heard the “Make Me a Footnote” sermon on Ananias, it was a loud Amen!]

HIGHLIGHT #4: Connected to history. Maybe it’s just my age again, but I deeply appreciated the intentional commitment to and honoring of those who have gone before us, so that students understood that our contemporary ministry opportunities in the world have often been made possible by others who paid a price. Patrick Fung paid tribute to the sacrifices of Hudson Taylor and the early missionaries to China. Ramez Atallah honored leaders like Rene Padilla and Samuel Escobar for their prophetic call for a holistic Gospel. On decision-day, Dave Howard – who attended the first “Urbana” as a student in 1946 – got front page coverage as he testified to living out the decision he made 63 years ago.

HIGHLIGHT #3: Testimony from Disciple X from Y. I can’t tell you a name nor a location, but I think this testimony – of a family living for Jesus in one of THE most difficult places on earth since the 70’s – was the most profound challenge to long-term obedience that I have ever heard at Urbana.

HIGHLIGHT #2: Jim and Beth Tebbe’s decision. I’ve had the privilege of working with Jim and Beth since he started working with Urbana 2003 as Urbana Director and now V-P of Missions. BUT they provided one of the greatest memories at Urbana 2009 when Jim announced on the call-to-commitment night that they will be leaving Inter-Varsity to go as cross-cultural workers in a very tough place. Jim & Beth are in their later-50’s, but they vividly reminded everyone that openness to God’s call is a lifetime commitment.

HIGHLIGHT #1: Manny. The last time I had a college-age roommate at Urbana, I was 19 years-old myself (Urbana 73). But Manny Arango(see , a senior at Gordon College, accompanied me this year. It was great to see things from his perspective, to learn from him about the challenges young people face, and to let him interact with people I know. We actually got to talk 1-on-1 with Disciple X as well as with David Howard (and actually hold his [now-laminated] 1946 Decision Card!). It was great to be with a young leader who is gifted, understands brokenness, loves Jesus, and is looking for God’s direction for the “what’s next?” of life. [It also helped that we have very similar commitment to laughing loud and often!]

Talk to me in a week and I’m sure my list might be a little different, but that’s it for today.

As always, thanks for your prayers, interest in us, and financial support.


Paul Borthwick (January 3, 2010)